Lakers have a plan no matter if they keep top-three pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery

Lakers coach Luke Walton, left, and general manager Rob Pelinka watch prospects participate in the NBA draft combine on May 12.
(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

The last great Lakers point guard will sit on stage Tuesday night during the NBA’s draft lottery, as the public face of the organization.

Magic Johnson is now charged with turning around his beloved franchise, with making sure that the Lakers’ status lately as a fixture in the NBA draft lottery ends. But on Tuesday night all he’ll be able to do is sit there and wait, just like everyone else, to hear the league unveil what pick they won — or lost.

“I feel good about it,” Johnson said. “We’re looking forward to hopefully keeping the top-three pick. We got a plan in place for that, and if we don’t we’ve got a plan in place if we don’t. We’re ready to go. I think what it is, is we just gotta get to that date and see what happens. You want to know. The unknown is always — all right let’s just get it going so we’ll know.”

At the New York Hilton Midtown on Tuesday night, the NBA will reveal the league’s draft order. The top three picks are chosen by a random drawing of numbered pingpong balls, while the rest of the picks are ordered according to worst record following the 2016-17 season. Each of the teams among the worst 14 in the standings will have some shot at getting a top-three pick, but three teams have the best shot.


The Boston Celtics have the highest odds of getting a top-three pick, at 64.26%. That pick comes from the Brooklyn Nets, who finished the season 20-62. The Phoenix Suns have the second-highest odds with a 19.9% chance at the first overall pick and a 55.82% chance at a top-three pick. The Lakers have the third-best odds, and a 46.9% chance of getting a top-three pick and a 15.6% chance of getting the first overall pick.

The Lakers had a shot at bettering their chance for a top-three pick during the season. But after winning only 11 games combined in December, January, February and March, the Lakers went on a five-game winning streak in April, closing the season having won five of their last six games.

If their pick falls out of the top three, they must surrender it to the Philadelphia 76ers and surrender their 2019 first-round pick, unprotected, to the Orlando Magic.

That they’re in danger of losing their top pick goes back to the Lakers’ search for their next great point guard. In 2012 they agreed to a trade with the Phoenix Suns that they thought would solve that problem. Steve Nash was traded to the Lakers for a 2013 first-round pick, a 2014 second-round pick and a 2015 first-round pick.


That 2015 pick, though, was protected in the top five. The Lakers jumped from fourth in the lottery standings to second by the kindness of the pingpong balls and selected D’Angelo Russell second overall. For most of the past two seasons, Russell has been the Lakers’ point guard.

In 2016 the pick was protected in the top three and the Lakers kept it again. This season it is also protected in the top three, and if they keep it once more, next year’s pick goes to Philadelphia. The Suns sent the pick to Philadelphia in 2015 as part of a three-team trade through which they acquired Brandon Knight.

Three of the top players available in this year’s draft are point guards — UCLA star Lonzo Ball, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. All three have interested the Lakers.

Having tried Russell off the ball some last season, the Lakers feel confident they could play him alongside a dynamic rookie point guard.

That’s all getting ahead of things, though. There will be plenty of time for Johnson to find his successor if he gets that opportunity.

Tuesday night, we’ll all know for sure.


Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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